First premiering 14 years ago, the Breaking Bad universe is one of evolution and change. In both Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s original show and its prequel, Better Call Saul, the characters in each nascent season have left audiences enamored, rooting for their triumph, their redemption, their vindication. However, those in the writing room pull no punches — you’ll watch, horrified, as the hapless high school chemistry teacher, good-hearted junkie, charming attorney and more plunge deeper into an inextricable criminal underworld until the story crescendos to a seamlessly-executed tragedy. The sixth and final season of Better Call Saul, which premiered on April 18th and culminated in a monumental finale on Aug. 15th, demonstrates the consistency of this heartrending realism pervading the sister series.
Despite many Breaking Bad fans being hooked by the exhilarating and morbid drug lord and cartel showdowns, both shows center on complex and compelling characterization. After the success of the original series that yielded 16 Emmys and 76 other awards, many were dubious about a prequel revolving around the sleazy comic-relief lawyer, Saul. Would it be a vacuous cash-grab? An inferior replica? Breaking Bad fans awaited gun-slinging cartel action and Saul Goodman’s ethics-bending shenanigans as the first season arrived. What they instead were given was a brilliant and nuanced lawyer drama about Saul’s humble origins as an eccentric public defender named Jimmy McGill, hustling to earn the approval of his superiors and the affections of his sweetheart Kim Wexler.
Particularly within its first few seasons, Better Call Saul is considerably different than its predecessor and yet so faithful to it. It is a deliberate, evocative exploration of Saul Goodman’s backstory and relationships that has a satisfying payoff. One such instance of a fulfilling arc occurs with secondary protagonist Nacho Varga, the son of a Mexican immigrant who grapples with his involvement in the cartel and the disappointment of his father who deplores his son’s criminal ventures. Without revealing any spoilers, Nacho’s independence, disdain for the cartel and moral fortitude come to a logical yet fitting conclusion, demonstrating the respect and caution the writers display towards their characters. Moreover, the execution of such payoffs is even more impressive when considering that Better Call Saul infuses scenes with gripping tension that prompts speculation about who will live or die, despite the audience being aware that many characters survive into the Breaking Bad timeline.
Furthermore, while it does require knowledge of Breaking Bad to fully grasp essential plotlines, Better Call Saul does not revolve around Walter White and Jesse Pinkman at all; it has its own identity and merit distinct from the beloved and highly acclaimed original. It is not only on par with Breaking Bad, but superior to it, methodically laying the foundation for storylines and character transformations with granular detail that necessitates patience and attentiveness. It poses a number of complex moral quandaries to the audience that blur black-and-white morality into shades of gray: Can people truly change? Can one ever atone for their unconscionable deeds? Is redemption deserved, and what does being redeemed look like? Regardless of one’s interpretations, at the end of the show, those who once clamored to see the nefarious, crowd-pleasing Saul Goodman will be somberly awaiting the return of his authentic and charismatic identity: Jimmy McGill. After 7 and a half years of this “criminally underrated” show gracing our television screens with virtuosic cinematography, writing and character development, a viscerally bittersweet finale affirms that Better Call Saul sticks the landing.
So, for those on the fence about watching, I hope my gushing praise convinces you. The show is a slow-burn love letter to the intricately crafted characters of the universe and earns a lofty spot on the tier list of the best television shows of all time. In fact, a recent installation of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman statues in the iconic Albuquerque, New Mexico immortalizes the Breaking Bad franchise as a quintessential element of pop-culture. Fourteen years and 433 cumulative award nominations later, the Breaking Bad storyline has come to a memorable close, imbuing the audience with nostalgia for characters we’ll never forget.
Isabella DiLizia is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].